In my second year at Berklee College of Music, I was diagnosed with tendonitis. My condition was as a result of playing piano with improper technique. Tendonitis is caused by repetitive motion in sporting activities as well as micro-movements such as playing a musical instrument. When this injury occurred, I found a new piano teacher who specialized in teaching students with this type of ailment. He informed me that the way in which I was playing was injuring me, not the amount of time I was playing daily. I took up the piano when I was 8 meaning that I had been playing incorrectly for 12 years. I had to completely relearn how to perform. This meant changing everything from the way I was sitting to the way I played the C Major scale. This was a physically challenging venture. I spent hours practicing simple motions. However, the psychological stress caused by my injury proved to be more overwhelming than the physical pain. I was constantly worrying about how I was going to make it through the next rehearsal. I doubted whether I’d be able to recover. And worst of all I kept asking myself, “What am I without music?”
Nonetheless, I was determined. Even after a doctor told me to stop playing for 3 months and a physiotherapist told me I should consider a teaching career, I soldiered on. I practiced the exercises my teacher gave me every day. I also started seeing a psychotherapist and taking anti-depressants. Therapy taught me that the pain was aggravated by mental state. When I felt any discomfort in my arm, a race of negative thoughts took off and the pain would dramatically increase. When I performed poorly I would feel depressed, sending me into physical agony. Once I started putting the ideas I discussed in my therapy sessions into practice, my level of pain decreased every week. Also, my practice sessions became more efficient allowing me to improve my technique at a faster rate.
After my last semester, I finally felt that I was able to play the piano without pain. Getting to that point from being in a place where I was afraid of touching the instrument was one of the greatest accomplishments of my life. However, I found myself struggling with other things. I felt inadequate compared to my musical peers. I was depressed about the lack of gigs I had. Finally, any threat to my health brought back memories of my battle with tendonitis. I associated any physical pain with the mental distress I experienced at Berklee. Anything from a sore muscle to the flu would cause psychological tension.
Although therapy helped, I needed to personally take control of my mental health. I also wanted to stop taking medication. Last May, while traveling in India I discovered meditation and Buddhist philosophy. At first, meditating made me even more stressed. I’ve always found it difficult to be alone, so you can imagine how difficult sitting on my own in silence for even 10 minutes was. However, I persevered because I knew my quality of life depended on it. 10 minutes of meditation became 15, then 20. Today I practice sitting meditation for an hour a day (2 sessions of 30 minutes). Reading the literature of Jon Kabit-Zinn, Thich Nhat Hanh and Osho has taught me to look within for guidance, fulfillment and strength. I learned how to see myself as a complete person, one with unique traits and flaws that made me human. After practicing meditation for 9 months I know that although I may be prone to anxiety and depression, I will always have a tool with which to confront them.
Here is my message to anyone struggling with anxiety and depression:
1. This is not a fixed state. You are in control of your quality of life. While therapy and medication can be good tools, you have to take responsibility for your well-being. Whether it is meditation or going for a walk every morning, as soon as you start being proactive you will feel better. You will start believing that you are at least on the path towards enlightenment.
2. You are not alone. We all battle stress and self-doubt to some degree. Ask for help and let the people who love you provide that care.
3. One day at a time. If you accept the fact that you can live a better life, simple things can get you on your way. For example, instead of bottling up your anxieties, write them down. Secondly, sit for one minute and focus on your breathing.
I hope my story has connected with you. If we can find the courage to share our battles with anxiety and depression, we can eliminate the fear and neglect of the elephant in the room.